Brigadier-General Rob Roy MacKenzie: a seasoned officer leads the Army Reserve into the future
Ottawa, Ontario — You could say Brigadier-General Rob Roy MacKenzie “hit the ground running” after being appointed Chief of Staff Army Reserve (COS ARes) last September. The very next day he completed the Canada Army Run half marathon in two hours seventeen minutes.
He brought to his new job a wealth of knowledge about the Canadian Army (CA) earned through his 31 years of service in a number of capacities and deployments in both the Reserve and Regular forces.
As a true “citizen soldier,” BGen MacKenzie deftly juggles senior roles in two safety and security occupations with equal dedication – one as COS ARes and one working full time as another kind of officer: that of a Sergeant in the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) where he began his full-time second career in 2000.
BGen MacKenzie’s dual professions are a perfect example of the Army Reserve’s part-time model of service for its members, who reside in more than 100 communities across Canada.
His roadmap to promote the evolution of the Canadian Army Reserve as COS ARes includes developing and implementing proactive measures to strengthen the Army component of the Canadian Armed Forces’ Primary Reserves (CAF P Res), and highlighting the Army Reserve as a predominantly part-time force.
During the Afghanistan mission, a significant number of previously part-time Reservists had moved into full-time Reserve positions. Changes to operational tempo since the end of Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan in 2014 has led to a drop in numbers, but there is still a strong need to constantly prepare for the defence and security of Canada and our allies.
“We have roles in international missions and roles of domestic tasks here at home,” noted BGen MacKenzie. “At home these include Arctic response tasks, domestic disaster assistance with Territorial Battalion Groups, influence activities and public duties.”
“As we move forward, we need to enhance and integrate as One Army, the Army Reserve with the Regular Army,” he said. “No great effort comes without a bit of challenge, that’s for sure. We are at a unique time in the world with defence and security. There are many threats, there are emerging threats. So, we need to look at how we can best integrate the Reserves as a professional force with the Regular Army, a ‘One Army’ team, and how we will do that with emerging capabilities.”
To ensure a balance of Reserve and Regular forces, the P Res will be strengthened to reinforce success for both forces in the next few years. The Army Reserve’s portion is 950 personnel to be spread throughout the Army Reserve. Funding for this will come from existing resources and savings identified through Defence Renewal initiatives.
Strengthening measures include:
- Streamlining the reserve recruitment process;
- Encouraging retiring Regular Force members to transfer to the P Res to retain valuable knowledge;
- Increasing training of the Army Reserve with the Regular Force as “One Army” to ensure experience on current equipment and weapons systems;
- Creating a diverse and inclusive environment to mirror Canadian society;
- Enhancing the connection with Canadians through commemorative events and community service;
- Developing partnerships with Canadian universities to enhance the Civil Military Leadership Pilot Initiative (a pilot debuted in 2015 at the University of Alberta); and
- Expanding high school co-op programs across the country to give young people a way to ‘try out’ the Army, as well as to learn trade and leadership skills.
“We’ve had the high school co-op programs for quite a while and they are working very well in certain regions – in the Maritimes, in the Thunder Bay area, in other provinces and in the Prairies. I think that there is a mutual benefit both to the individual and Canada’s greater whole,” said BGen MacKenzie.
BGen MacKenzie has served with a number of Reserve and Regular Force members, including then-Reservist and VPD member, the Honourable Harjit Sajjan, Minister of National Defence. They deployed together in Afghanistan from February to November 2009 as part of the Joint Task Force Afghanistan Headquarters in Kandahar.
The two also worked together at the VPD. “The Minister and I were on a month long in-service course together and when he was a Gang Squad detective I was on the VPD Emergency Response Team,” said BGen MacKenzie.
In an interesting merging of his two careers, in 2008, BGen MacKenzie was involved in follow-up to a drug bust in Vancouver which also resulted in recovery of stolen medals, including a gold Order of the British Empire. The First and Second World War medals belonged to Vancouver war hero, Brigadier-General Aeneas Bell-Irving, of the noted British Columbia military family, who died in 1966. BGen MacKenzie’s personal connection to the Bell-Irving family, through the Army Reserve, enabled him to track the history of the medals and locate the grateful family. He said of the incident, “I was simply in a position to assist.”
At a young age, he criss-crossed the country with his family from his birthplace of Regina east to Ottawa and then west to Victoria and finally Vancouver. He joined the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada (Seaforth of C), a Reserve infantry regiment in Vancouver in 1985 at a youthful 21 before his signature mustache had even been imagined.
BGen MacKenzie transferred to the Regular Force in 1989 after completing his Bachelor of Science in Geology from the University of British Columbia. Increasingly senior appointments with both the Regular and Reserve Forces sent him around the country and across the world.
With the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) in Winnipeg, he became a parachutist, served with United Nations peacekeeping operations in Cyprus in 1990, and then on two missions in Central America as a United Nations Military Observer: first in Guatemala in 1991, then in El Salvador in 1992.
Back in Canada in 1992, he joined The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada in Winnipeg as the Regular Support Staff Officer and Adjutant. After graduating from the United States Army Ranger School, BGen MacKenzie moved in 1994 to 1st Battalion PPCLI in Calgary, with command and staff appointments and service during the 1997 Manitoba Flood.
Posted to the Canadian Parachute Centre in Trenton, he qualified as a military freefall parachutist and conducted a number of CA parachute courses. In 1999, he was posted to 39 Canadian Brigade Group Headquarters in Vancouver as an operations officer for training.
Twenty years after becoming Private MacKenzie, he returned to the Reserve Force and assumed command of his original regiment, the Seaforth of C as a Lieutenant-Colonel. During this time, he served as a member of the Patrol Division in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and as a police firearms instructor and recruit field trainer. Assigned to the VPD Emergency Response Team, he supported the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
Along with his many police certifications, BGen MacKenzie completed the Canadian Army Sniper Detachment Commander’s Course and the Master Sniper Course.
Following his command of the Seaforth of C, he deployed to Afghanistan in 2008 and 2009 to serve in a key position as Officer Commanding the Operational Coordination Centre – Provincial, as part of the Joint Task Force Afghanistan Headquarters in Kandahar. On return to Canada, BGen MacKenzie served simultaneously as Assistant Chief of Staff – Operations of 39 Canadian Brigade Group and Director of the Regional Liaison Officer Program – Joint Task Force Pacific.
Promoted to Colonel on September 7, 2010, BGen MacKenzie volunteered for a second deployment to Afghanistan, where he served until the end of 2011 with the NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan as the Senior Advisor to the Afghan Border Police, a specialized police organization with 23,000 members.
In May 2012, he was appointed Commander of 39 Canadian Brigade Group based in Vancouver. He was promoted to his current rank in September 2013 and appointed Deputy Commander 3rd Canadian Division, which is responsible for all CA administration and operations in western Canada from the Pacific Ocean to Thunder Bay. On September 19, 2015, BGen MacKenzie was appointed COS ARes and has been working since then to strengthen the Army Reserve.
He has been married for 25 years to his wife Marnie, a schoolteacher. Their son Rob Roy Jr. is a first year engineering student and their daughter Meaghan is in Grade 11 and an accomplished National Science Fair gold medalist.
“I have been very fortunate to serve with people all over this country and in a few places in the world as well. This year will be my 31st year serving in the Army in both the Reserve with component transfer to Regular Force and back to the Reserve. So, I view my service as part of Army service, period,” saidBGen MacKenzie during a recent interview.
He continued, “But it all comes down to our people. For the Army, our mantra is: “The Army is a soldier-centric organization, well-trained, well-led, well-equipped.”
“We will always have challenges to get better and better at that, but in my view, the Army that we are in today is one of the best institutions in the country and the Army Reserve is an integral part of that,” he said. “We are out there; we are in many communities, 123 units in 127 communities. Being able to reflect Canada and the demographics of Canada, that’s where we need to be, in a smart technologically advanced, agile world,” said BGen MacKenzie.
“So I would recommend any young Canadian who has an interest and wants a good challenge, to join the Army Reserve. I really believe that.”
By Lynn Capuano, Army Public Affairs